After a successful trial in the All-Star Game, should the NBA adopt the Elam Ending in more meaningful games?

With the NBA (and college basketball) in full swing, this is your one-stop-shop for ALL the juicy subplots. Peek in to catch up on a league and Sixers storyline line for the week. As you leave, get to know one college prospect making big noise this season. This week, we focus on RJ Barrett, Shake Milton, and Illinois’ star ball-handler Ayo Dosunmu.

SPACING A FUNCTIONAL OFFENSE AROUND RJ BARRETT 

RJ Barrett is not everyone’s cup of tea. That is for sure. The Knicks drafted RJ and made him the center of their re-build whatever you call what they are doing. Barrett’s limitations scream off the page and New York emphasized it around a clunky roster of NBA outcasts. Fast forward one season and the Knicks archaic approach is a bit clearer now. The concept is simple. Create space for Barrett to operate.

Against Indiana, head coach Tom Thibodeau unlocked this dynamic by removing rim runner Mitchell Robinson from the lineup. Robinson has an enticing upside, but his eagerness to flash to the basket creates a roadblock of bodies for Barrett. With Julius Randle at center things looked well, normal? Randle did most of the dirty work as a screener, and RJ enjoyed space from a group of decent floor spacers (I see you, Obi Toppin!). Here is how those lineups looked on paper.

Knicks lineups vs Indiana 12-23-2020 *per NBA.com
Knicks lineups vs Indiana 12-23-2020 *per NBA.com

Barrett is a smooth ball handler who loves to attack with his left hand off a live dribble. RJ’s explosiveness is still a big question mark, but he has the polish to exploit mediocre rim protectors like Domantas Sabonis. However, what REALLY stood out was the added strength in the offseason. Barrett bullied Victor Oladipo in space. Watch RJ take him to the gym with a savvy ‘veteran-like’ push.

Barrett finished the game with 26 points on 11 for 15 from the field. But it was off the drive where he inflicted significant damage. RJ scored on 83% of his drive opportunities, nearly double the output from last season. Life looked much harder against a bigger and tougher Sixers defense. But look for the Knicks to explore these lineups and give Barrett the space he needs to thrive.

SHAKE MILTON IN A ‘HARDEN-ESQUE’ ROLE

Before you continue let’s make one thing clear, Shake Milton IS NOT James Harden. But with a new head coach in Philadelphia, this is a fun comparison. Why? Doc Rivers’ offense is historically predicated on a star ball handler. Whether it is Chris Paul or Kawhi Leonard, the ability to maneuver screens and create off the dribble runs supreme in Doc’s world. Without an elite shot-maker Rivers has relied on Shake Milton. The results thru two games have been wildly impressive.

Players with 20+ drives per game thru 12-26-20 *per NBA.com
Players with 20+ drives per game thru 12-26-20 *per NBA.com

A lot stands out when you dissect Shake in action. Milton is playing considerably stronger and leverages his downhill momentum to absorb contact at the rim.  

Shake’s improvements as a ball-handler extend beyond his added strength. Milton is able to navigate screens with great calm and pace. Ball pressure was also an issue last year. But he is clearly more comfortable, positioning his body to protect the basketball and bait defenders. By keeping defenders in his hip pocket, he uses a crafty left hand to finish at the rim with impressive control. This combination has been an immediate source of production for the Sixers back-up and a nice early boost to Rivers’ star-led concepts. 

YOUR COLLEGE BASKETBALL PROSPECT: G – AYO DOSUNMU

THE RESUME

  • 24.1 points per game (10 Games)
  • 60.9% TS (54.9% in 19-20)
  • 5.2 assists per game (3.3 in 19-20)
  • 44% shooting on 3.6 three attempts per game (29% in 19-20)

WHAT I LIKE

  • Looks stronger and quicker in comparison to last year. Aggressive attacking the basket and drawing contact. Free throw attempts up 1.5 attempts per game.
  • Nice change of speed dribble to shake off defenders. Tight handle. Shifty. Manages ball pressure with poise. Can get to his spots on the court.
  • Flashes his downhill quickness in transition and as a cutter. Great size to finish at the rim. Adequate three-level scorer potential.
  • Soft touch. Comfortable pulling up from a trailer position. Floor spacing potential on the wing.
  • Good size profile for a complimentary guard. Should not be overwhelmed by the physicality of the NBA.

WHAT I DO NOT LIKE

  • High volume shooter inside the arc. Not a prolific scorer relocating and shooting off movement from long distance.
  • Tunnel vision directing the pick and roll. Will dribble into pressure and miss easy passing outlets.
  • Low impact as a help defender. Does not engage consistently to disrupt and create turnover opportunities. 
  • Lacks an elite burst off the dribble. Will settle for contested looks against effective point of attack defense. 
  • Limited ceiling as a shot creator on the ball. Cannot carry a heavy ball-handling role at the next level. 

PROJECTION

Ayo Dosunmu is a name that has circled the NBA draft process in previous seasons. This year the Illinois guard has taken a lead role for a team with championship aspirations. Dosunmu looks comfortable orchestrating the offense, but his limitations on the ball are a cause of concern. I see Dosunmu mostly as an off the ball contributor at the next level. I love the potential as a cutter, and he has flashed that capability on many occasions this season. The question is if the shooting improvement is real. Dosunmu is not a high volume shooter, and most attempts come from a stationary look. Developing consistency from deep likely changes the conversation. But as of now he likely slots as a back of the first-round prospect with the potential to become a top of the rotation contributor.